General Assembly: Special Political Committee (SPECPOL)
Topic: Tigray Conflict
On November 4th, 2020 forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) launched an attack on the Ethiopian military in Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region. Members of the TPLF claimed that the attack was in self-defense and has ignited the current conflict in the region. The fuel that fed the opening shots of the conflict stems from Tigray’s loss of influence in Ethiopian government over the past four years. The loss in political power culminated in October when the Ethiopian government cut all funding for the region in response to Tigray’s government holding elections, despite a federal order to postpone all elections due to Covid-19. The government of Ethiopia declared a state of emergency in the Tigray region after the attack and proceeded to cut all power, phone, and internet services to the region. In the following days the United Nations called for immediate de-escalation of the conflict. The Ethiopian government carried out strikes to gain control over much of the Tigray region while Eritrean forces were alleged to send military forces into northern Tigray. These strikes have also damaged the ruins of Aksum, a United Nations World Heritage site. Humanitarian aid was not allowed to enter the region until December when the United Nations brokered an agreement with Ethiopia for unconditional access to the region. While aid did begin to flow into Tigray several UN convoys carrying food and medical aid were forced to turn back due to intense fighting. Despite Ethiopian advances ending in November with the capture of Mekelle, fighting continues. Several aid workers have been killed during strikes by the TPLF. These difficulties made it all but impossible for aid to reach Tigray from the Ethiopian border for much of December. The conflict has also ignited tensions between ethnic groups in the region, where at least one massacre of 40 people has been recorded so far.
The crisis has displaced thousands and left thousands more without food in Tigray, where over 600,000 relied on food aid prior to the fighting. Refugees have fled to Sudan and Eritrea. In Sudan the UN has worked to maintain two refugee camps, one of which is already at capacity. However, the Ethiopia-Sudan border is no longer as safe as it was as fighting has broken out between Ethiopian and Sudanese forces in the border village of Fashaga. The inciting incident is unclear, however Sudan repelled Ethiopian forces and forced the evacuation of the inhabitants. In Eritrea, there are concerns over the treatment and possible disappearance of refugees due to the poor relations between Tigray and Eritrea. Some 56,000 have fled from Tigray and another 220,000 have been displaced and remain in the region. Out of the 40 hospitals in the region, the UN only has physical access to five and another four can only be contacted by phone. The remaining 31 hospitals have reportedly been destroyed or looted to such an extent that they cannot function, depriving the region of its medical infrastructure.
The stability of Ethiopia is crucial to much of Africa due to its central location and large population. The longer fighting continues in the region, the more likely additional conflicts will begin. In less than three months, what began as a political dispute has become a vicious conflict involving three countries, all within 100 miles of a region populated by more than six million people. How can the refugees and internally displaced persons be safely relocated and supplied? How can additional ethnicity motivated attacks be prevented? The Office for the Coordination Humanitarian Affairs and its Logistics cluster are already working with Ethiopia, how else can the situation be stabilized? How can continued conflict with Sudan be prevented? These questions and many more will need to be considered to restore peace in much of eastern Africa.